The Ghost of the Third Reich: Educating Ourselves about Berlin

By Ivy Wappler

Third Reich

As the inauguration of the 2016 FemGeniuses in Berlin looms closer and closer, we FemGeniuses are finishing up our packing and preliminary assignments before we board our flights this weekend. I was grateful for the assignments, not only to keep me reasonably busy here at home, but also in the name of getting informed about Berlin before traveling there. I find that before traveling anywhere for the first time it is important to familiarize oneself with their history and culture.

There are countless arguments for being an informed traveler. Not only will ample background research help you contextualize and understand what you experience in a new part of the world, but it is also imperative to be aware of the rich history of Berlin, for example, because that history informs the nature of Berlin today. Understanding the momentous legacy of The Third Reich is a necessary precursor for exploring the city of Berlin. Our class is going to discuss various intersectional identities in this city. But how can we ever begin to understand the nuanced lives of migrant Turks or Black Germans without at least knowing about the Nazi influence that once so blatantly orchestrated white power and racialized oppression? For that reason, we FemGeniuses were assigned to watch The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall. This History Channel documentary, combined with an assortment of readings, was the beginning of my process of familiarization with Berlin, a prequel to what I expect to be a very illuminating block abroad.

The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall examines the experiences of everyday Germans in the time of the Third Reich. The focus was on how the Germans gave Hitler his power, and what their lives looked like in wartime. All mentions of Jews in the documentary were starkly less personal in nature. The film, constructed from clips of Nazi rallies, strapping German soldiers, and Germans working and recreating together, regarded the Jews were only in cold statistics, such as death tolls in concentration camps. While the documentary certainly made clear the violent and inhuman ways the Jews were treated, there was no mention of what Marion Kaplan explores in “The School Lives of Jewish Children in the Third Reich,” namely the day to day experiences of Jewish people under Hitler’s regime. Kaplan goes through lengths to describe how Jewish children were treated in contrast to their German peers. She paints a clear picture of Jews and Germans living side by side, one group drastically more oppressed by the regime than the other. I thought it interesting and wonder why The Third Reich, however, did not depict Germans and Jews interacting, or acknowledge that racial discrimination was blatant in public spaces like schools.

AyimThe Third Reich: The Rise and Fall approached race interestingly. The only races and/or ethnicities it mentions as targeted and persecuted by the Nazis were Jewish people, Poles, and Russians. There was no mention of Black people or their experiences in WWII. In “Afro-Germans after 1945: The So-Called Occupation Babies,” May (Opitz) Ayim observes that the rhetoric surrounding the Third Reich does not give space to the non-Jews who also suffered on account of their race. She notes that although Afro-Germans and Asian-Germans existed in Germany before and during the second world war, they were not considered in discussions of compensation. I wonder: Is The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall contributing to the erasure of Afro-Germans and other groups? Or is it just zooming in on particular aspects of the war?

Something I hope to discuss further that was brought up in both the documentary and some of our readings is the concept of rape in war. After WWI, Germany had ceased to be a colonial power, and some of the soldiers who occupied German territory after the war were black. There was national outrage over the fact that white German women were exposed to the black soldiers, or “wild people” (“African and Afro-German Women” 45).  It had been customary, however, in previous German military endeavors to rape foreign women. This “unwritten male right to enslave women” was never challenged until black soldiers exercised it on white German women (“African and Afro-German Women” 45). Rape in war is important to examine because it is an area where racism and sexism intersect. The Third Reich describes how the Russian Red Army raped countless German women when they invaded Berlin, probably in direct retaliation of how the Germans treated their people earlier in WWII. How did Germans justify their right to rape and pillage foreign peoples? How did Germans view their own women? What does it mean that Germans celebrated their raping of foreign women, and cried out about black men raping their own? I look forward to unpacking layered considerations of race and gender in discussions of the rape, war, and nationalism when we convene as a class in Berlin.

Audre Winterfeldmarkt j

After reading from Showing our Colors: Afro-German Women Speaking Out and watching The Third Reich,  it is clear that white guilt is a force to be reckoned with, especially in contemporary feminist circles.  The fall of The Third Reich ends with Germans being forced to go inside neighboring concentration camps and stand face to face with the inhumanity they imposed upon the Jews. At least a million Germans were then left in concentration camps to die. This was only the beginning of the reparations that Germans would be forced to make for the disaster that was WWII. White guilt has by no means been eradicated from the German consciousness, however. Audre Lorde laments German white guilt in the foreword to Showing Our Colors. Lorde has “met an immobilizing national guilt in white German women which serves to keep them from acting upon what they profess to believe” (viii). Lorde laments how white German feminists seem paralyzed, unable to accept fully who they are, their history, and their privilege. She views this as a waste of power and potential for “battles against racism, anti-Semitism, heterosexism, [and] xenophobia” (viii). Contemporary white guilt is born largely from the deep footprint that both world wars have pressed into German history and culture. In the preface to Showing Our Colors, Dagmar Schultz notes that “only gradually are white women beginning to realize that accepting responsibility is a viable and necessary alternative to being paralyzed by guilt feelings” (xix). En route to Berlin, I am curious to investigate how the legacy of the Third Reich manifests itself in the modern city, and how palpable white guilt may be. In conversation with activists and academics in Berlin, I hope to examine the reconciliation of white guilt, and how German feminists are addressing it as a problematic, stagnating force that has the potential to be a source of power.

Looking more closely at our readings and watching The Third Reich has made me even more excited to take off for Germany. I feel lucky to be writing this first blog post, because I had even more reason to dwell on these assignments. The film and readings have got me thinking about the power of narratives, rape in war, and white guilt, among many other things. I look forward to gathering as a class and discussing these topics in more detail, with Berlin and its people as our classroom. Our assignments so far have given me an idea of how the ghost of the Third Reich continues to haunt the country, but I am sure there is so much more to see and learn. Given its rich history, I predict Berlin will be an especially interesting place to study the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and more.

I guess it is time to finally start packing. I certainly left that to the last minute. The art of packing light is a lesson I have yet to learn… going to challenge myself this time! Monday morning we will gather as a class for the first time and embark on our academic adventure. Safe travels to all my classmates, and see you soon!


WapplerIvy Wappler hails from Long Island Sound and is grateful to spend her summers in New England, and her winters in sunny Colorado. She is a Feminist and Gender Studies major, and an Environmental Issues minor. After school, she hopes to explore environmentally and socially responsible tourism. She may also end up reforming sex education. An avid foodie, Ivy is ready to experience Berlin through its food and drink when she’s not in class. You may find her taking walks through sunny streets, seeking out farmer’s markets and green, open spaces.

A Visit to Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand

By Thabiso Ratalane

IMG_9324The weather was overcast today, and the clouds looked menacing. It was, however and thankfully, not a walking tour day. After a hearty lunch at Golden Rice, the FemGeniuses took to the Ubahn—destination Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand (the German Resistance Memorial Center). There, we learned more about the heroic efforts of those Germans that chose to sacrifice their lives in order to see an end to the horrible Nazi regime. The priority and the urgency of the importance of commemorative narratives in the city focus primarily on museums and remembering the Jewish lives lost. Along these lines, Sabine Offe claims that they “tell the story of those murdered, and tell it in the country of the perpetrators.” The German Resistance Memorial, on the other hand, serves to celebrate German figures that worked fervently to oppose the Nazi regime, because the horrors of that époque seem to sometimes outweigh the heroic efforts of those that resisted. Tucked away at the historical, seemingly less touristy area of Berlin on Stauffenbergstraße, the center gave me a sense of the collective shame that the Germans typically feel regarding matters of the Holocaust.

IMG_9331We walked into the center from the courtyard, which we later learned was the site of the assassination of the two important figures that made an attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life: Claus von Stauffenberg and Georg Elser. Sylvia, our guide, told us that the resistance was multi-faceted. There were multiple groups of people and organizations that resisted the Nazi regime. These groups might not have necessarily shared the same philosophies, but they all had a common goal. For example, the curation of the center was organized around these groups, which included students, labor unions, artists, scholars, and people of the various religious faiths.

IMG_9320Sylvia made a point to let us know that the place was not a museum, but rather a historical site. I found this distinction important because of the other many museums around the city that are curated for the remembrance of Holocaust victims. I am of the opinion that this was a deliberate move so as not to take away from museums that acknowledge the many atrocities committed against Jews, perhaps motivated, as Offe points out, “a notion of guilt handed down to the second and third generations of a nation, the large majority of which was involved in and supported a system responsible for the mass murder of European Jews.”

nRegarding the role of women in the resistance, the first question asked before the tour began, Sylvia responded and confirmed that the roles that women played were limited, but pivotal. Women hid Jews from Nazis, gave food to the hungry, prepared stamps and couriered letters for distribution, risking their lives in the meantime. One important woman she pointed out was Liselotte Herrmann, who distributed leaflets against Nazism before Hitler came into power. She fled Humboldt University to the south of Germany to escape persecution and continue her work after Hitler came into power. She was caught, tried, and sentenced to death for investigating Germany’s militarism in an exposé article.

IMG_9328As Sylvia pointed out, in trying to garner as much support as conceivably possible, the National Socialist Party attempted to fool everyone into thinking they were socialist. However, many people didn’t realize that Hitler’s socialism relied heavily on discrimination and segregation. The party did get the support it needed, but soon received strong opposition as their motives became clearer. Along these lines, Sylvia explained the important role of churches during the Third Reich. She mentioned that the resistance remembrance was named “resistance of the Christian faith,” because of the churches’ involvement in Hitler’s government. The church had multiple roles to play; they both supported and opposed Nazism. Regarding support, the church was more willing to accept the Nazi regime, because it was anti-communist. This ensured the longevity of the church within the state. What they opposed, however, was the integration of the church into the state. The euthanasia program, a program to kill disabled people, homosexuals, and the so-called weak, also motivated some priests into protesting the government. Some priests did this openly, writing letters. Bernard Lichtenberg, for example, helped stop the program because of the power he had.

IMG_9326Students also played a paramount role in the resistance. As Michael Schmidtke points out, “Many students were also concerned about another reform plan of the Great coalition, that of the ‘emergency laws’” (79). Further, he writes, “President Paul von Hinderburg used them in 1930 and 1933 to create a government independent from parliament, after the democratic parties had lost the majority, and this had made it easier for Hitler to assume dictatorial power in 1933” (79). This led to the movement of the White Rose: students writing letters and pamphlets to people in how they can passively resist the regime. While we could not examine the entire 18-section exhibition of more than 6,000 photos and documents showing the diversity of German resistance, we got a holistic picture of the resistance from the groups that we toured.


ThabisoThabiso Ratalane is a rising senior from the city of Maseru in the Southern African enclave of Lesotho. She dabbles in French and International Political Economy major divisions at Colorado College. Thabiso is passionate about fashion, linguistics, politics, writing, and social justice for minority groups around the world. Thabiso idolizes Anna Wintour; she finds her strong will, tenacity, efficiency, and passion for what she does admirable, and regards Wintour as a champion for female empowerment. Thabiso’s passion for minority groups and how they navigate social spaces that alienate them made this course and Berlin a perfect fit to spend her first month of the Summer.

The Jewish Museum: “Forced Into Exile”

By Jesse Crane

IMG_8764After a sunny morning walking through downtown Berlin on the Holocaust History Tour with Carolyn Gammon, we ate a long lunch and then headed over to the Jewish Museum. As we gathered together on the upper floor of the museum, our group sat in a large circle in the middle of an empty room with slanted red, white, and steel walls. The introduction to our workshop was given by Fabian Schnedler. From the beginning, Fabian made it clear that the Jewish Museum was not a Holocaust museum. Museum visitors were there to talk about the history of Judaism, including the 2,000 years of Jewish history before the Holocaust. Fabian explained to us that “this is a museum about life, not death” and that the museum is meant for us to ask ourselves, “What is Jewish culture?” Similarly, in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” Sabine Offe argues that the Jewish Museum emphasizes the importance of new collective memories about German Jews in order to gain a rich understanding of the role of a Jew in Germany, both in the past and today.

Jesse IIAs Fabian left us, we became acquainted with Muirgen, our enthusiastic workshop leader. Our workshop, “Forced Into Exile,” focused on the feelings of fleeing, the spaces involved in the Holocaust, and how those feelings and spaces impact our bodies and evoke emotions. She also urged us to re-conceptualize how we viewed the Holocaust in relation to the experiences and perceptions of German Jews. One of our activities included organizing various laws by year in order to understand Holocaust as a process.

IMG_8769Murigen laid our 8 cards with dates and handed out 8 cards with Nuremberg Laws to match these dates. As a group, we struggled to match the laws with the right dates. These Laws were each different. For example, “Jews are obliged to wear a yellow star” and “It is forbidden for Jewish children to attend a German school.” Murigen explained to us that the Nazis were originally trying to “bully” the Jews enough until they left Germany. This reminded me of “The School Lives of Jewish Children and Youth in the Third Reich” by Marion Kaplan. Kaplan explains how the experiences of Jewish students grew worse and worse until they finally left the constricting German schools in order to go to Jewish schools where they felt comfortable and supported. This had me thinking about how the decision to leave everything you had ever known behind and how bad things would need to get before making that decision. Would I have left? Would I have stayed? I still wonder what I would do.

Murigen highlighted these questions parallel to the election of Hitler as Chancellor in the Third Reich. At first there were misunderstandings of who was really Jewish and who was really Aryan. At the time, German Jews often felt more German than Jewish or anything else, and suddenly their identities were conceived within the dominant social discourse as exclusively Jewish. The active creation of definitions by the Nazis for Aryan and Jew brought me back to Maisha Eggers‘ “Knowledge’s of (Un-) Belonging.” When discussing “moving inward,” Eggers discussed how Black Germans had define themselves in order to shape their movement and gain strength within their goals. In Nazi Germany, the government was took this power and was able to define all groups in the Third Reich and how they are meant to function in society.

IMG_8770After this exercise, Murigen led us we downstairs to gain a better understanding of spaces in Nazi Germany for the Jews and to demonstrate to us the way in which the museum contributes through its architecture in forming this understanding. As we ventured to the basement, we wandered into an unusual space. It was an industrial, off-kilter, narrowing hall with no right angles and no color. There was no familiarity. We discussed how we felt and as we moved through the halls, we continued to see changing dimensions. As we looked towards the ends of the hall, we saw separate halls that broke off to light and halls that broke off to darkness. Every space had a sharp turn, and it was difficult to center myself. We decided to go towards the light, and as we reached the door, we entered into the Garden of Exile. I believed that the Garden would be a centering relief from the angular halls we had just walked through. My assumptions were wrong.

JesseThe Garden of Exile consisted of long tall concrete rectangles with foliage off the top. It had tilted cobblestone floors. Some of the students in our class said it made them seasick, and others felt claustrophobic. Overall, this Garden of Exile after the sharp hallways didn’t feel much better. As we reflected on this as a group, we finally began to understand how Jews were stripped of their spaces in this world, whether it was home or in exile, nothing felt “normal.”


JesseJesse Crane is a pending Colorado College graduate from Bethesda, MD. Jesse graduated in May, but as a transfer student, she was required to do one more credit in order to fulfill her Sociology degree requirements. She saw Berlin as the perfect opportunity to take an amazing final college course and study abroad. Like many CC students, Jesse loves being outdoors—whether it may be skiing, hiking, or taking her dog for a walk. On the weekends, she spends her time practicing yoga and cuddling with her dog Lily. While Jesse loves things like reading, chai tea, and playing cards, waking up early and jogging are things that you will probably not see Jesse doing often. Jesse is grateful and excited to have the opportunity to take one final class abroad at Colorado College and can’t wait to share her experiences with everyone.

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“Berlin from Below: Dark Worlds”

By Melissa L. Barnes

UnterweltenThis evening, we attended a tour entitled “Berlin from Below: Dark Worlds.” Berliner Unterwelten offers five tours, and “Dark Worlds” showcases an underground museum of a civilian air raid shelter under a modern-day train station. We were not allowed to take pictures during the tour, because the tour company does not own the copyrights for the artifacts and does not own the complete rights to the air raid shelter. The tour company also does not receive government funding, so they rely solely on private funding, donations, and guided tour income.

This particular shelter was completed in 1942, and became a museum in 1999. The shelter has four levels, with a total of forty-eight rooms. Our tour guide also talked with us about the difference between civilian air raid shelters and bunkers. Bunkers were solely for military/defense use and were expensive to construct, because they use more steel—thicker walls and roofs—than civilian shelters and have a more chess board-like, square architecture. Generally, bunkers held about 200 people, while the civilian shelter we were in was designed to hold 1,300 people. Bunkers were designed to look like houses or simple buildings in order to distract and confuse countries that were attacking Germany from the air. Germany was not allowed to have an air force due to the Treaty of Versailles, so this was a well-known weakness utilized by the opposition.

Before 1941, there were no civilian air raid shelters, because the Nazi regime did not want to convey that there was any potential harm for civilians to worry about and, secretly, civilians were thought of as collateral damage during wartime. However, in 1941, it was clear that Berlin would be under continuous attack, and German citizens would be less cooperative if they were not given a “safe space” during the air raids. Before the civilian air raid shelters were constructed, the Nazi regime tested many different architectural designs: first with animals, then with people imprisoned in concentration camps. To this day, no one knows how many trials the Nazis completed before they were satisfied with the design of the air raid shelters.

The walls of the shelters were different lengths, each floor was built at a slope, and every door is facing a wall. If a bomb were dropped into the shelter the shockwaves of the explosion would destroy the whole shelter – whatever was left after the initial destruction of the bomb. The shelter was built in such a way, then, that the shockwave would not reach people two rooms away from the epicenter. Additionally, if any chemical weapons were dropped into the civilian shelter, the toxic gas used was usually heavier than air, so the chemical would float down into the lower areas of the shelter, saving the people in the higher levels. This especially illustrates Hitler’s belief that civilians are collateral damage.

BunkerIn each room, there is a room number and occupancy limit painted on a wall. However, when an air attack happened, civilians obviously did not care about the occupancy limit and tried to get into the shelter no matter what. The shelter is very spacious and each room looked like it could definitely hold more than the limit; but, ventilation for fresh air was only installed in nine of the forty-eight rooms. Hence, many people died from suffocation, because each room was sealed with thick doors. So, if there were too many people than the Nazi’s calculated air for, then the air would not reach everyone. At the end of the air raid, firefighters and police officers were sure to tell surviving civilians, “Remember, the Fürher has just saved you!”

Once the war was over, most men were dead, injured, elderly, or too young, so the women were expected to rebuild entire cities by hand. During this time period, unlike times before and during the war, women were not considered too weak to do a man’s job, but were expected to do so in order to provide for their children. They had to use their imaginations to build things from the remains of the war. For instance, they used bomb shells to make stoves, soldiers’ helmets to make pots and drainers/strainers for cooking, and rubber from tires to make shoes and insulation during harsh winters.

Speaking of the “end” of the war, forensic pathologists estimate that the war will not truly be over until all human remains are found and identified. Along these lines, there are still 3,000 live bombs within Germany’s soil that could be accidentally detonated. The detonators on the bombs have a life of 100 years, so they will remain live for about 30 more years. For these reasons, the government requires that police and forensic specialists examine all sites where new buildings will be constructed in order to ensure that no live bombs are near the area. We learned how important this is when our guide discussed the case of September 15, 1994, when a construction worker detonated an underground WWII bomb. This accident left 3 people dead and 17 people injured.

Throughout this tour, I was trying to imagine myself as a civilian whose daily routine included a trip to an air raid shelter about four times a day. This was challenging, because I also thought about some civilians’ cooperation and support of the war, racism, and genocide. Given the content of our course, I also wondered about the role of Black women after the war, especially whether or not they were expected to perform the same duties as other women—what happened to them during these times? We have learned during our seminars throughout this course that some, but by no means all, Black people were spared from murder and/or concentration camps. If Black people were still present in Germany, were they allowed to enter the civilian air raid shelters? Throughout this class, we have also discussed the importance of multiple perspectives of history, and I feel that popular narratives of the WWII period are dominated by the White civilian perspective, even if we are talking about the victims of WWII.

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Melissa IIIThis fall, Melissa will be starting her final year as a student at Colorado College, double-majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and Psychology. This fall, she is planning to apply to Ph.D. programs in Clinical Psychology.